Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Return of the Dust Bowl

Understandably, there is a lot of concern about fossil fuel depletion.
But as I mentioned in my  Running Out of Food (again) part 2 post, water is an ongoing concern.
There is roughly 4,200 cubic kilometers of water that could be used each year without depleting overall supplies.  Consumption is currently at 4,500 cubic kilometers.  Agriculture already uses about 70% of that total.  Because of this over-consumption water tables are dropping rapidly.  The article notes that the water table in Punjab used to bea few meters below the surface, and is now in some places hundreds of meters below the surface.  There are a number of great rivers that no longer reach the sea:  the Colorado, Murray-Darling, and Indus.  It is estimated that using current methods farmers will need 45% more water by 2030; just 18 years away.  As more and more people live in the cities, the political battles over water are likely to tilt to the cities.  The farmers used to get 90% of the water, now get 70% and need another 45% more.  They will be lucky if they can keep hold of their 70% share.
I thought this article did a very good job of highlighting that reality.
US farmers fear the return of the Dust Bowl, Charles Lawrence, The Telegraph.
There is not much to be happy about these days in Happy, Texas. Main Street is shuttered but for the Happy National Bank, slowly but inexorably disappearing into a High Plains wind that turns all to dust. The old Picture House, the cinema, has closed. Tumbleweed rolls into the still corners behind the grain elevators, soaring prairie cathedrals that spoke of prosperity before they were abandoned for lack of business.
Happy's problem is that it has run out of water for its farms. Its population, dropping 10 per cent a year, is down to 595. The name, which brings a smile for miles around and plays in faded paint on the fronts of every shuttered business – Happy Grain Inc, Happy Game Room – has become irony tinged with bitterness. It goes back to the cowboy days of the 19th century. A cattle drive north through the Texas Panhandle to the rail heads beyond had been running out of water, steers dying on the hoof, when its cowboys stumbled on a watering hole. They named the spot Happy Draw, for the water. Now Happy is the harbinger of a potential Dust Bowl unseen in America since the Great Depression.
'It was a booming town when I grew up,' Judy Shipman, who manages the bank, says. 'We had three restaurants, a grocery, a plumber, an electrician, a building contractor, a doctor. We had so much fun, growing up.' Like all the townsfolk, she knows why the fun has gone. 'It's the decline in the water level,' she says. 'In the 1950s a lot of wells were drilled, and the water went down. Now you can't farm the land.'

And the litany continues.......
Lake Mead BMI IntakeOld BMI intake. The white line is the normal water level. Note the red boat at the bottom of the intake.

Pictures from The Future is Drying Up at Think or Thwim

In the Southwest this past summer, the outlook was equally sobering. A catastrophic reduction in the flow of the Colorado River - which mostly consists of snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains - has always served as a kind of thought experiment for water engineers, a risk situation from the outer edge of their practical imaginations. Some 30 million people depend on that water. A greatly reduced river would wreak chaos in seven states: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. An almost unfathomable legal morass might well result, with farmers suing the federal government; cities suing cities; states suing states; Indian nations suing state officials; and foreign nations (by treaty, Mexico has a small claim on the river) bringing international law to bear on the United States government. In addition, a lesser Colorado River would almost certainly lead to a considerable amount of economic havoc, as the future water supplies for the West's industries, agriculture and growing municipalities are threatened. As one prominent Western water official described the possible future to me, if some of the Southwest's largest reservoirs empty out, the region would experience an apocalypse, "an Armageddon."

Well there is language I can understand.  But of course that was 2007, so things have gotten better since then:  right?

Unregulated Inflow to Lake Powell
2000 - 62%       2001 - 59%      2002 - 25%        2003 - 51%      2004 - 49%      2005 - 105%             2006 - 73%       2007 - 68%      2008 - 102%     2009 - 88%      2010 - 72.5%

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